The Delta Center at Delta State recently hosted a reunion for the Williamson family of Sunflower County.

Delta Center hosts reunion

By | Delta Center | No Comments

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University recently provided a heritage tour for the Williamson family reunion. The 10 Williamsons grew up on the Sunflower Plantation in Sunflower County, the children of Audra and Ollice. Since the death of their parents in 1981 and 1982, they have gathered each summer in a central location to honor the memory of their parents.

This year they decided to host the reunion in Cleveland so they could visit the old home place. The tour, led by Lee Aylward of The Delta Center, included visits to Dockery Farms, the birthplace of Delta Blues and Po Monkey’s Lounge, one of the last remaining rural juke joints. They also visited old cemeteries to teach the younger ones about their heritage. The family also enjoyed Sunday morning worship at the church they grew up attending.

In addition to visiting these heritage sites, the Williamsons dined in local restaurants and stayed at hotels in Cleveland. These activities yielded economic infusion into the Cleveland community.

“Family reunions and town homecomings are a salient feature of Mississippi Delta culture,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “During the 20th Century, thousands of people – black and white – moved out the Delta to Northern cities like Chicago and Detroit, seeking economic opportunity, a more tolerant racial climate, and better quality of life overall. The groups of families and community members that moved still consider the Delta home, and they return here at least once a year.

“These reunions and homecomings are an important part of cultural heritage tourism activity in our Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. They bring visitor expenditure – shopping, dining out, lodging – which is beneficial to our economy, and they promote our Heritage Area as a family friendly, educational destination.”

The Williamson reunion attracted family members from seven states. There are 108 immediate descendants, 99 still living as well as 22 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren, with one on the way.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the NEH’s “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at http://www.msdeltaheritage.com.

Delta State University and Delta State Athletics will erect a statue of legendary baseball coach Dave "Boo" Ferriss Oct. 3 at 2 p.m.

University to honor Coach Ferriss with statue

By | Alumni, Archives and Museum, Athletics, Community, Faculty/Staff, Foundation | No Comments

Delta State University and the Department of Athletics are erecting a statue in honor of legendary baseball Coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss in recognition of his decades of commitment to the Green and White.

The life-size statue, created by renowned Mississippi artist Kim Sessums, will feature Ferriss in his Delta State uniform and will be placed behind the grandstand this fall after renovations are complete at the baseball complex named in his honor. The statue dedication is scheduled for Oct. 3.

Athletic Director Ronnie Mayers said the statue is an appropriate way to pay tribute to a coach who had an illustrious career at Delta State.

“As a friend of Delta State University Athletics, you already know the impact that Coach Ferriss has had on the Delta State baseball program, and also for the game on the state, regional and national levels,” said Mayers. “What truly makes this man worthy of having a statue erected on the Delta State campus is reflected in the time he has always taken to know his players and fans so well — something he has continued to do in the years since he last hung up his uniform.”

Ferriss retired from Delta State following the 1988 season, but he continues to be a tireless supporter at all levels of baseball throughout the state and especially for his beloved Statesmen.

While he is known locally as the legendary Statesmen baseball, Ferriss also became a Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer.

The Shaw, Miss. native spent 46 years in baseball on the collegiate and professional levels, including 26 seasons at Delta State. A legend in national collegiate baseball coaching circles, Ferriss was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988 in Atlanta, Ga.

He compiled a 639-387-8 record at Delta State, and his coaching record ranks him among all-time national coaching leaders at the NCAA Division II level. His 1988 team was ranked 9th nationally in the Collegiate Baseball poll.

When Ferriss took over the DSU baseball program in 1960, he started it from the ground level. The Statesmen played many of their games off campus and Ferriss coached without the benefit of an assistant. He directed teams to the NCAA Division II Playoffs in eight of his last 12 years, including three trips to the NCAA Division II championships where the Statesmen finished third, second and third respectively in 1977, 1978 and 1982.

Gulf South Conference championships came in 1978, 1979, 1985 and 1988, with the Statesmen finishing second in 1981 and third in 1982. Forty-nine of his players earned All-Gulf South Conference honors.

Ferriss also earned several honors for his coaching accomplishments. In 1988, he received the United States Baseball Federation Service Award for his contributions to the game. He was named NCAA Regional Coach of the Year three times while also earning Gulf South Conference coaching honors three times.

In 1978 and 1982 he was selected as College Baseball Coach of the Year in Mississippi and was runner-up in that category in 1985.

In 2007, University Archivist Emily Jones helped pay tribute to Ferriss’s remarkable career by establishing The Dave “Boo” Ferriss Museum, which is housed inside the Robert L. Crawford Center adjacent to the baseball field.

“This statue is really going to tie everything together,” said Jones. “It will let everyone know right where they are — at the field named in his honor, the museum to the side and now the statue. Everyone is going to feel welcomed.”

Mayers encouraged fans and Delta State supporters to take part in the community effort to raise money for the statue fund.

“We invite you to be a part of this momentous occasion by contributing to the Ferriss Statue Fund,” said Mayers. “Along with your donation, we encourage you to jot down a fond memory to be shared with coach and Mrs. Ferriss.

“Coach Ferriss has given us more than 55 years of service and memories here at Delta State. Don’t miss this opportunity to support this overdue tribute and to share in honoring this legendary coach and man.”

To donate to the Coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss Statue Fund, visit https://www.deltastategiving.org/Fund/Give/678. For more information, contact The Delta State University Foundation 662-846-4704.

 

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Levitt AMP [Cleveland] announces lineup

By | Community, Students | No Comments

Delta State University and the Cleveland community are gearing up for an exciting lineup of free public concerts thanks to the Levitt AMP [Cleveland] grant awarded by Levitt Pavilions.

The series lineup was recently announced, with the first show kicking off Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m. featuring country artist Adam Craig. Craig will rock out on the Green Space of the Crosstie Walking Trail at College Street in downtown Cleveland.

For the full lineup of shows, ranging from August until late October for 10 consecutive weeks, visit http://concerts.levittamp.org/cleveland. Follow all series updates on social media at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Levitt-AMP-Cleveland-Music-Series/498395706985461?fref=ts), Instagram (LevittCleveland) and Twitter (@LevittCleveland).

Amber Foster, Levitt Amp Cleveland coordinator and a student at the Delta Music Institute, is looking forward to bringing a diverse group of musicians to town.

“I’m so excited about the lineup and to see the crowds that come out,” said Foster. “This is a really cool opportunity for Delta State and Cleveland. We’re in an area surrounded by music history, so I think it’s extremely important for us to show that through weekly concerts, museums and community involvement.

“People always say the Delta is a very unique and special place — and it is — but continuing to think of bigger and newer things for these small towns can truly widen opportunities for everyone, especially with music.”

As a DMI student, Foster is serving in this leadership role to fulfill her senior project. Expecting to graduate in December of 2015, Foster understands the valuable experience she will gain through this concert series.

“When taking this on as my senior project, I knew it would be a huge responsibility as a student here at Delta State,” said Foster. “But it couldn’t have been more perfect. My favorite part thus far has been booking the bands.”

The concert series will also require community support through volunteers, who can register at this link: http://concerts.levittamp.org/volunteer_cleveland.

The Levitt AMP Cleveland Music Series is supported in part by Levitt Pavilions, the national nonprofit behind the largest free outdoor concert series in America. Dedicated to strengthening the social fabric of our communities, Levitt partners with cities to transform neglected public spaces into thriving destinations through the power of free, live music.

In 2015, free Levitt concerts will take place in 16 cities across 14 states, all featuring a rich array of music genres and high caliber talent. In addition to Levitt AMP, Levitt forms the only national network of nonprofit outdoor music venues, each presenting 50+ free concerts every year. Within this region is the Levitt Shell (http://www.levitshell.org) in Memphis, Tenn. with concerts taking place this May, June, July, September and October. Learn more about locations and impact: http://www.levittpavilions.org.

For more information, contact Foster at levittamp@deltastate.edu or 662-846-4579.

In total, 72 K-12 teachers from across the nation took part in this summer's "Most Southern Place on Earth" workshops. Photos by Amy Kramer and Brady Gilliam.

NEH “Most Southern” workshops create Delta ambassadors

By | Delta Center | No Comments

The National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop, presented twice this summer (June 21-27 and July 12-18) by The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, exposed 72 K-12 teachers from throughout the United States to the Mississippi Delta’s rich history and cultural heritage. Workshop participants represented 33 states, including Alaska, California, Florida, New Hampshire and Indiana. Several teachers from Mississippi participated as well, including a teacher from Mound Bayou.

Over the past six years, the NEH workshops have brought over $1 million in federal grants to Delta State University. Through these grants, the workshops have generated educational and economic spread effects regionally and nationally.

The workshop model uses an experiential learning approach, giving participants direct contact with and access to historically and culturally significant people and places in the Mississippi Delta. Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center, said this approach inspires deeper understanding of historical events among the participants. The approach also stimulates economic activity, as workshop participants stay in hotels, dine in restaurants and visit educational attractions in Cleveland, Bolivar County and the Delta region.

“This blending of educational and tourism-centered economic activity is beneficial to the Mississippi Delta’s federal designation as a National Heritage Area,” said Herts. “The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a partnership between the region and the National Park Service to raise awareness of the value of the Mississippi Delta’s rich cultural heritage.”

The NEH workshop has created a national network of over 500 educational and cultural ambassadors for the MDNHA. Participants take what they have learned from the workshop back to their schools and communities, sharing stories and lessons from the Delta with students, colleagues, family, and friends nationally and globally. Over the years, many past participants have made return visits to the region, bringing others with them, which has broadened the workshop’s educational and economic impact for the MDNHA.

Dr. Luther Brown, former director of The Delta Center, returned to serve as lead facilitator of this year’s workshops, with support from Lee Aylward, and Brady Gilliam and Amy Kramer, both Robertson Scholars from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Workshop participants heard presentations from blues, southern religion and great migration experts, including: Dr. David Evans, professor of ethnomusicology and regional Studies, University of Memphis; Mississippi Delta native, Dr. Edgar Smith, former vice president of Academic Affairs, University of Massachusetts System; Dr. Charles Reagan Wilson, former director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi; and Dr. John Strait, professor of geography at Sam Houston State University.

In addition, workshop participants were engaged with living historical figures, including civil rights activis Charles McLaurin, who met Fannie Lou Hamer while working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Cathy Wong, who spoke about the presence of Chinese in the Delta and their cultural influence; and key people involved with the Emmett Till story, including Till’s cousins Simeon Wright and Wheeler Parker, both of whom were with Till before his murder.

Participants also visited many historical and educational points of interest throughout the region, including: Dockery Farm, known as the birthplace of the blues, located between Cleveland and Ruleville; Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou; Emmett Till Intrepid Center in Glendora; blues legend Robert Johnson’s gravesite at Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Fort Pemberton in Greenwood; and the 1927 Flood Museum, Century of History Museum at Hebrew Union Congregation, and Chinese and African American cemeteries in Greenville. The group also traveled to Memphis, the Delta’s largest city, to visit The Cotton Museum, National Civil Rights Museum and Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the NEH’s “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at http://www.msdeltaheritage.com.

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Reflections: The Most Southern Place on Earth

By | Community, Delta Center, Faculty/Staff | No Comments

For the past six years, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University has offered the unique workshop titled “The Most Southern Place on Earth,” an intensive program supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This summer, 74 K-12 educators from across the U.S. were once again immersed in two six-day experiential learning workshops in the Mississippi Delta. Participants take what learn back to their schools, teaching students and colleagues about the rich history and cultural heritage of the Delta region.

Participant Valencia Robinson, born in the Delta but raised out-of-state, offered her reflections on the special opportunity.

***

I came to the Mississippi Delta with mixed feelings and emotions. This is the place where my parents lived (Clarksdale), and the place where I was born (Shelby). Several friends and coworkers asked me why I applied for this particular NEH seminar. I could have chosen several other places in the country to visit and learn. Why in the world would I want to go to Mississippi was the question I was asked numerous times. My response to them was that it was the place where my parents lived and my birthplace and that something in my heart beckoned me to the Most Southern Place on Earth.

I had never visited Mississippi before. The views I had of Mississippi were ALL negative from just reading about the horrors of my ancestors from slavery, peonage, and the civil rights movement. There was absolutely no reason to ever visit such a place where white people had the power to hold blacks down and they relished in that power well after the civil rights movement ended. My thoughts about Mississippi have now changed after having visited. Mississippi is just one of MOST states that treated African Americans unfairly. Why judge them so harshly?

From the beginning of the workshop, learning of the buildup of soil and how it creates a land form called a delta and actually walking along the Mississippi River Delta, to the highly anticipated night at Po’ Monkey’s, I was immersed in a study of people, history, culture and music. Every lecture inspired me, every song uplifted me and every taste of the day convinced me that the uniqueness of this state is what makes Mississippi such a great place to visit and live.

I was blessed to have my daughters with me to share the events of each day. They learned so much from me telling them about my daily activities, reading the daily itinerary, reading the entire Emmett Till exhibit, reading the required articles, Simeon’s story and Silver Rights.

After a week of intense study of the Delta, a classmate that I hadn’t seen since I graduated from high school — Kathy Roberts Clark — saw my Facebook posts at Po’ Monkey’s and sent me a message letting me know that she now lived in Cleveland. We met at Mississippi Grounds for coffee and a great reunion. We reminisced about our elementary, middle, and high school days growing up in a small town like Cleveland — Marianna, Florida. We discussed race matters and we both realized we were blessed to grow up during the era that we did. We played together, sat together for lunch, visited each other’s homes and didn’t give it a second thought. We were just friends and that’s what friends did.

I am grateful for having had this opportunity. I thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for continuing to sponsor these landmark workshops. They are very much needed. If it were not for this workshop I don’t think I would have ever visited Mississippi. Delta State University is the perfect university to host this program and the workshop presenters, Dr. Luther Brown, Dr. Rolando Herts, Lee Alyward and all of the speakers were wonderfully engaging, sharing their own personal stories of tragedy and triumph in Mississippi.

My mom left Clarksdale in 1972 and she has not been back to Mississippi. I am planning a trip in the very near future — hopefully during the Christmas holidays — to bring my entire family, my mother, and my sister’s family to Cleveland and Clarksdale. This was such a remarkable experience for me and I just have to share it with my entire family. I just can’t wait to get back.